I am Raipur-returned — and proud of it. Raipur? Yup. In Chhattisgarh. When I mentioned I was invited there to address a bunch of smart, educated and ambitious entrepreneurs, most friends went blank! Some asked whether it was outside Delhi, others, whether there is regular train service to the destination. “Will you be staying in a circuit house... someone’s home? Is there running water in Raipur? Will it be safe? Isn’t it the place that’s notorious for kidnapping, rape and murder? Ooops — you are going into a Naxal-infested area — watch out for the tribals. Some of them are head hunters...” Ignorance, ignorance, ignorance. These are random remarks. I swear I have not made them up. Despite the onslaught of information bombarding us from all directions, we are withdrawing further and further into ourselves. In a sense, our world is actually shrinking dramatically.
We are more concerned with that which is instantly available to us — something which suits our limited and immediate purpose. Raipur is not exactly on everybody’s radar. By that I mean, unless you have business interests in the region, you really won’t bother about a place like Raipur. But you really should! I acknowledge the fact that I was pretty ignorant and indifferent to it — till the commercial flight touched down and I walked out into a spanking, new, modern airport. Around me were dozens of city slickers getting into their fancy cars — Mercs, Audis and Beemers. More revelations were to follow as we drove past glittering hotels (the world’s top brands) and luxury shopping malls with KFC outlets. I could’ve been in Mumbai. Delhi. Any other big city of India.
The visible, physical changes in what were considered Tier-2 cities is so startling, it takes a while to sink in. Local business people rattle off statistics to establish Raipur’s credentials. They talk about the progress it has made in just 10 years. Is it just the mining money? Something else? That there is a great deal of wealth here is pretty obvious. The wealth is in your face. Subtlety is clearly not a virtue in these parts. Flashing assets and talking about creating more money, seems to be the main objective. There is a strong under current of mixed signals which is hard to miss. While these are global goals, the speed with which the transformation is taking place in these busy hubs is creating a bit of a social dilemma. Especially for young women, caught between traditional family influences and the desire to be considered “cool” by peers.
I noticed the sari is no longer the favoured garment at formal functions, and even the salwar kameez has taken a backseat for these young and fit ladies, who prefer high-end designer Western wear — dresses and gowns — over what they called “auntyji” clothes. Talking to one popular lady from Gujarat, I was not terribly surprised to hear that most richie-rich Gujarati brides these days insist on elaborate, red carpet gowns as a part of their trousseaux. When this set travels for leisure, it is to glam party spots like Ibiza and St. Tropez. They are accompanied by a retinue which includes a “maharaj” (cook), two maids (one for the kids, one for “madam”), and a Man Friday for the “boss”. Most men address their friends and colleagues as “boss”. These are India’s new maharajas. And they are in a great, big hurry to crack the billionaire club before they turn 40. I was most impressed by their focus. They work hard. Network non-stop. Are politically aware and nurse global ambitions. Their wives match their aspirations, with perfectly groomed appearances and a social manner that displays a lot of confidence. These are not trophy wives or decorative spouses.
They are engaged in their own business activities and consciously work towards creating their own individual profile. It was refreshing to see a pretty level-playing field, where both partners played equal roles. This is the sort of societal shift that is going to define where we are headed 20 years down the line. Raipur is but one such destination that has had a serious makeover in recent times. When I mentioned that to an organiser, he smiled, “Have you been to Indore recently? No? Do go there and check out the roar of Ferraris...” Perhaps, a Bharat yatra is overdue. All of us need to get out of our comfort zones to discover how incredibly fast change is taking place across India. Bollywood movies are a pretty good barometer for reflecting what’s going on just a few hundred miles from the metros. Perfectly encapsulating this dramatic, almost overnight shift is the story of a Maharashtra MLA’s wife who crashed her Rs 5.5-crore Lamborghini into an autorickshaw a week after her husband had presented it to her.
The man had taken to social media to boast about this super-generous birthday gift. Which meant he wasn’t trying to hide the fact that he was seriously loaded. Some would call this crass and brazen, given the fellow’s background. Others will praise him for being this bold and upfront. After the incident went viral on social media, the wife posted a picture of herself with the saffron-coloured car, stating, “This is me with my lovely car. Both are fine. Please don’t interpret anything wrong.” Ah well... welcome to the New India, where low life gets transformed into high life before one can blink. Yesterday’s petty crook is today’s legislator... and tomorrow’s leader. A Lamborghini is but a symbol of this “progress” — take it or leave it.